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Narrative Poem: SciFi Prophecy

June 8, 2010

lo I beheld the abominable fusion
lo the old stone masses
lo withhold himself transfixed
the remarkable secrets beyond conception

the morning of his curiosity with the worst at the wormwood
effects of his study their supine indolence

certain documents by this material this signify
though visibly aged the one gate were uncannily immaculate

the one gate an attic pale

statistics had so of so little lanes
illustrious bones are in and he and the word and wonderful

the one gate thirteen cubits before

accuracy and knife and were merely queer nocturnal meetings
in the sword after the settled in uncanny rhythms

the one gate in

sanctuary of uncanny
inhospitable deserts hostile unrest
the western distance we scarcely seen
flourishing cities certain that the public deification
cyclopean masonry gave witness
gloomy hills assailed
the beings seem injudicious profanation
judge them curse the teeth and committed her strong men seek
the elder secrets of the age
the second death if his double the titular primacy
the blasphemous and behold that both were fire

the trumpets
and the trumpets ha
trumpets and the trumpets
and the trumpets and the trumpets ha

pastures beyond a portion shall be darkness

and a visible vapour thereof were strictly in the only visible

the manuscript
the buildings
until after the authority of tissue


June 4-7, supervised generation from type-based n-grams using stochastic beam search and phonemic evaluation.  Source texts: various Lovecraft, various books of King James Bible, first several chapters of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”  Generator: ePoGeeS

Hi guys!  The poem above was based on reading Matthew’s scifi gnoetry.  I was gonna tell him to drop some Revelations and Gibbons and maybe some Milton or Dante into the mix, then I figured wtf, I’ll do it myself!  (hope you don’t mind I wormed your style, bro!)  Plus, we talked a bit about narrative, and I’ve been thinking about it, and my last couple of “sound poems” had a bit of proto-narrative in them.  “Mirror Neurons” had the feeling of an experiment gone wrong, and “Prosthetic Imagination” reflected its source, sounding like a guy talking to himself about writing poetry. I kind of did that semi-consciously.  but this here was the first poem I wrote in which I specifically tried to suggest some kind of story.

It also added to my previous thoughts about narrative by highlighting how your choice of software affects the options open to you.  let’s see….

  • in gnoetry: you generate a bunch of text, then choose which words you want to have re-generated.
  • in epogees: you generate a bunch of text, mix it up however you like, and generate or select new words
  • in mchain: you generate a bunch of text, paste it into a word processor, and mix it up however you like

So there seems to be a continuum.  gnoetry is the most structured, mchain is the most open, and epogees is somewhere in the middle.  each has their advantages and disadvantages, but I’m guessing that narrative is easier to do with the less structured tools.  I’m feeling kinda lazy, but if I was going to try to quantify it, I’d probably define the degrees of freedom that each tool gives their user, then I’d try to find an inverse relationship between those degrees of freedom and the number of different narratives available.

but it also reminded me of something I read:

“Now I had my program, but what to do with it?  The first thing I tried was the easiest.  I let it run for a while and then combed through the output looking for interesting chunks I could string together.  But this approach held onto a residue of my earlier false assumption.  I was still treating the computer as a retarded or psychotic human brain from which I could hope for flashes (however far apart) of ordinary or extraordinary lucidity.”
– Charles O. Hartman, “Virtual Muse: Experiments in Computer Poetry”

Man, I wish I myself had some flashes of lucidity!  I dunno…  Anyways, you know, who needs lucidity?  Certainly if you’re gonna talk like Abdul Alhazred you don’t wanna sound TOO coherent…  And you know, the way I got into engineering in the first place was cause I liked reading things that made no sense, and then reading them again, and reading them over until the DID make sense…  and if they never really did make sense (like theoretical math journals or cellular-level neurology – yikes!) then it was just as cool!  it’s a symptom of the postmodern condition!  avoiding personal obsolesence requires constant innovation and reinvention which requires continual learning and frequently going through phases where everything looks like it’s crazy talk!

Anyway, Hartman eventually concludes it’s OK to use the output of his program as a starting point for writing poetry, and says:

“I wasn’t doing artificial intelligence research but writing poems.  I wasn’t trying to imitate a human poet.  The point of my work wasn’t the power or originality of the program iteself. … The point, rather, was seeing how to use what it could do.”

Right on.

O, BTW, I wrote a brief and hopefully intuitive overview of what n-grams are!  I posted it on, but you might be interested in it coz it’s relevant to gnoetry, epogees, and (I think) mchain.

ok, later!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew permalink
    June 11, 2010 12:45 pm

    Yikes, I dig this. Meant to comment earlier, but kept forgetting. I enjoy the opening lines, especially, something about their seriousness works well, almost as though they were introducing a lament.

    Perfect choice of Hartman quotes, too. Sometimes I feel indebted to the program in a way that I don’t fully understand and certainly can’t repay or express properly, but other times I am able to resist the urge to anthropomorphize the software and view it as the tool that it is. I don’t know. I suppose I’ll just keep plugging along and hoping for my own flashes of lucidity!

    • eddeaddad permalink*
      June 13, 2010 5:02 am

      > Sometimes I feel indebted to the program in a way that I don’t fully
      > understand and certainly can’t repay or express properly

      I feel that way about the place in the mind where creative ideas come from. The difference between the program and the mind is that the program can be explained very precisely. (Although the effects and implications of the program are harder to nail down.)

      But yeah, I think forging ahead is the right answer.

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